1. Email Marketing

The ultimate guide to catapulting email open rates

You can spend countless hours crafting the most attractive, well written emails but if hardly any of your subscribers open them then all of that effort has been for nothing.

Thankfully, it’s surprisingly easy to improve your email open rate, once you know what to do. In this article, we’re going to outline five sure-fire ways to get more of your subscribers opening and engaging with your emails. The five tips are based on our own experience at EmailOctopus, calling on our decades of collective email marketing experience and are also backed up by third party research and data.

Before we go any further though, it’s useful to first establish what the average email open rates are. This will not only give you an idea of what to aim for and exceed but will also let you know how much of an improvement to your email open rate you can expect.

Average email open rates

If your open rate is already above average then moving the needle to improve the rate further is going to be trickier. Conversely, if your open rate is below average then it’s, going to be easier for you to see a big improvement, assuming you follow the below advice.

However, regardless of your current open rate we strongly believe that you should see some real improvement in rates by executing on the below tips.

Benchmark conducted in-depth research on email open rates across a number of industries and also provided an industry-wide average:

Graph showing industry open rate averages

Now that we’ve established average open rates it’s time to answer the pressing question: how can you improve your email open rate?

1. Timing is crucial

The day and time an email is sent has a big impact on how many people open it. But how much of an impact? This is the question we sought to answer.

We analysed the millions of emails sent through EmailOctopus and found that emails sent on a Friday have the highest open rate (12%). Conversely, emails sent on a Sunday have the lowest open rate.

Graph showing open rate by day

We encourage you to run small-scale tests, using different combinations of days and times to find out which achieves the best results for you.

2. Split your list

People are more likely to open emails that they think are relevant to them.

And one of the key ways of increasing the relevancy of your emails to your subscribers is by effectively segmenting your mailing list.

Research by Lyris (now under the Aurea umbrella) uncovered that 39% of marketers who split their lists experienced higher open rates, while 28% achieved a lower unsubscribe rate and 24% experienced improved deliverability and greater revenue.

Graph showing email list segmentation results

You can split your list based on buyer vs non-buyer, location, age or previous behaviour, such as how many emails a subscriber has opened in the past and what content they engaged with.

Once you’ve chosen your segmentation criteria it’s then important to personalise both your email title and email content to appeal to the specific segment you are now targeting with that email.

So, stop blasting all your subscribers with the same mass message and instead split them based on criteria. Then personalise your message to that segment based on that criteria and watch your open rates drastically improve. And good news – EmailOctopus has a powerful yet easy-to-use segmentation feature built in, so there’s no excuses.

3. Avoid spam filters

An effective, but often overlooked, way of improving email open rates is by deploying a range of techniques that prevent your emails from landing in the subscriber’s spam box in the first place.

The main techniques include:

A) Utilising DKIM and DMARK to improve deliverability. More information on setting these things up is here.

B) Avoiding using words in your email title that are known to trigger spam filters. These include “free money”, “winning”, “no credit check”, “buy” and “discount”. So generally, anything that sounds overly commercial, too salesy or too much like a get-rich-quick scheme. A full list of common spam keywords to avoid can be found here.

C) Effectively use merge tags to personalise the “To:” field of your email campaign.

D) Showing your subscribers how to successfully whitelist your emails, and politely requesting that they add you to their address book.

4. Keep your list clean and fresh

One big reason why companies have low open rates is because their email list is full of subscribers that are inactive. Essentially, a large portion of their list has gone stale.

But how do you determine which subscribers are inactive?

We suggest that any subscriber that hasn’t engaged with any of your emails within the last 4-6 months can safely be assumed to fall into the “inactive” category.

There are two things you can do with regards to inactive subscribers to improve open rates:

  • Attempt to reactivate inactive subscribers by sending them more targeted, more personalised and more value orientated emails.
  • Delete the inactive subscribers that don’t react at all to the above from your list. Just the act of removing the inactive subscribers will improve your open rate percentage.

This is known as a re-engagement campaign and we have the perfect guide to running an awesome re-engagement campaign.

5. Write attention-grabbing subject lines

Subject lines play an important role in improving open rates

Arguably one of the most important things that separates an email with a low open rate from one with a high one is, unsurprisingly, the email subject line.

Think about it. The subject line is the only piece of information the subscriber has ahead of time so they primarily use the subject line to decide whether they click through to view the whole email or instead scroll past it. In short, the email subject line can make or break your open rate.

But how do you write an attention grabbing, click-worthy subject line?

Below are some of the most important tips to follow:

Keep it short and snappy

On most popular email clients (e.g. Gmail, outlook) the subject line will get cut off if it’s too long. This has become even more important in recent years, as now approximately 40% of emails are viewed from smartphones.

We recommend a subject line of 50 characters or less. However, if you really must have a long subject line make sure the most attention-grabbing and interesting content is towards the start of the line.

Use Cialdini’s persuasion principles

Cialdini’s principles of persuasion have worked consistently well for over a decade. And they will continue to work well in the decades to come as they’re based on our innate human psychology which isn’t changing anytime soon. The principles have been proven to work well across all industries and company sizes and have, over the years, been successfully applied to any situation where one person or group has needed to convince another person or group.

So yes, that includes email subject lines.

The principles include reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, scarcity and unity. You can find out more about them here.

A relevant example of one of the principles, scarcity, in action is where Hubspot found that using subject lines that evoked a sense of urgency, scarcity and exclusivity by using phrases like “today online” and “24 hour giveaway” resulted in 22% higher email open rates.

Avoid spam words and phrases

This one seems like a no-brainer but you may be using some of them in your email subject lines without realising and they could be costing you email opens. Here’s a detailed list of spam words/phrases to avoid.

The average internet user is a lot savvier now than they were 5 years ago, and are much better at avoiding things they think are spam, even if they actually might not be. Don’t get caught in that trap.

It’s important to note that the above are general subject line writing tips that we at EmailOctopus have seen consistently raise open rates for companies in lots of different industries and of different sizes.

However, no one knows your business, your market and your subscribers better than you so we recommend you combine the above with your own knowledge and intuition.

For example, your company and market may be the type that respond well to slightly controversial subject lines, or maybe slightly humorous subject lines with puns. You’ll only know for sure if you look at your data, think deeply about your market and subscribers and perform small controlled tests to find out what works best.

Wrapping up

Here at EmailOctopus we have seen the tips and techniques above improve the email open rate for many of our clients, across various industries. So we’re confident that if you implement at least one of the above tips that you should see an uptick in your email open rate.

As always, it’s important to carry out lots of small-scale, controlled tests to see what works and what doesn’t before rolling any changes out to your whole list.

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Comments to: The ultimate guide to catapulting email open rates
  • December 27, 2018

    Excellent post! I have been using EmailOctopus and I can say it is helping us to improve our strategy.

    From now on Spam words will be in our radar to take care of.



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